Haematological characteristics of Australian mammals

9. Haematological characteristics of Australian mammals


The laboratory assessment of haematological characteristics is commonly undertaken to assess the health status of an animal and to aid in decisions about the management of the patient. In most instances, interpretation of the data is guided by comparison with a reference interval developed from the haematological values of healthy individuals of the same species. To be used effectively, the reference interval must be appropriate for the patient and the user must understand the limitations of reference intervals.

For most species of Australian mammals it is diffi-cult to obtain reference information for haematological characteristics and this chapter is a compilation of data from studies published in the scientific literature, many of which report the ‘physiological’ characteristics of blood of the animals studied, rather than conforming to methods used to establish ‘clinical’ reference intervals. Consequently, many studies do not report ancillary information, such as how animals were selected, the methods and equipment used to measure the haemato-logical analytes and the statistical characteristics of the data. As a result, the data is presented in the same format as originally published.

There has been no attempt to ‘grade’ the quality of the data from these studies. In all circumstances the reader must decide if these published values can be appropriately used as a comparison for the haemato-logical characteristics of the animal being examined. As previously mentioned, many factors such as age, sex, subclinical disease, use of anaesthesia and the analytical methods used may affect the haematological values of ‘clinically healthy’ animals. Ideally, the haematological results from the patient should be compared with those from studies that assessed not only the same species, but also animals with similar characteristics to the patient and which used similar methods of haemato-logical analysis. If comparison is made with studies that are less similar, then the user should adopt a more conservative interpretation of any differences and have less confidence that those differences reflect a disease process. When at all possible, reference intervals for haematological analytes specific for a population of animals and laboratory should be established.


A comprehensive discussion of the methods used to establish reference intervals for haematological data is beyond the scope of this book, but the salient points are presented in the following section.

The calculation of a meaningful reference interval relies on the selection of ‘healthy’ individuals; however, ‘health’ is more difficult to define than disease because it depends on how rigorously it is investigated and therefore, a reference interval may be affected by the methods used to determine if individuals are ‘healthy’. Using only the results of a clinical examination to select animals may not detect subclinical disease; in some cases, endemic disease may exist in a colony or free-living population and a decision must be made whether to screen animals for a particular disease and subsequently exclude from the selection pool those that are positive or to accept the subclinical disease as part of the characteristics of the population.

The use of ancillary tests (such as radiology and laboratory assays) may allow detection of subclinical disease but will significantly add to the cost of the exercise. Furthermore, an inherent problem arises when using laboratory assays in this role, namely, deciding what level for a given analyte should be used to exclude an individual from the sample pool. The presence of ‘outliers’ in the data may be identified mathematically (Lumsden and Mullen, 1978) but their detection is not routinely recommended because values from skewed populations may be misconstrued as outliers (Horn et al., 1998). However, an animal with a clearly defined pathological process (such as anaemia, as evidenced by decreased haematocrit, erythrocyte concentration and haemoglobin concentration) should be removed from the selection pool.

In many cases, the selection of individuals for the composition of reference intervals is simply based on availability, rather than selecting the best animals for the purpose. The number of animals assessed is an important factor influencing the statistical methods used to assess the data, as well as the ‘width’ of the interval.

The International Federation of Clinical Chemists (IFCC) guidelines recommend that samples be obtained from 120 individuals if the data has parametric distribution and 200 individuals if the data has non-parametric distribution (Solberg, 1993). The difficulty in obtaining samples from that number of animals of any species of Australian mammal, as well as the cost associated with the analysis of the samples, would almost certainly preclude adhering to these recommendations.

Commonly in veterinary medicine, the central 95 per cent of values from a subset (sample) of individuals from a population is used as an estimate of that population, which is typically described by the 2.5 and 97.5 percentiles. Meaningful parametric or non-parametric estimation of the percentiles requires that the minimum sample size is 100/P where P is the lower percentile (e.g. 100/2.5 = 40) (Lumsden and Mullen, 1978). When there are less than 40 observations from clinically healthy individuals with no obvious outliers, then the observed lowest and highest values are best estimates of the 95% reference limits (Lumsden, 1998). When the data has Gaussian distribution, 95 per cent of healthy (‘normal’) individuals fall within the interval defined by the mean plus 1.96 standard deviations (upper limit) and the mean minus 1.96 standard deviations (lower limit) and this calculation is commonly used to establish a clinical reference interval (Lumsden and Mullen, 1978).

As the sample size (i.e. the number of observations) increases, there is a decrease in the width of the interval and when there are more than 60 observations (for parametric data) or 120 observations (for non-parametric data) there is a decreasing effect on the reduction of the interval width (Lumsden, 1998).

Many other statistical methods have been proposed to allow representative reference intervals to be calculated from smaller samples sizes than recommended by the IFCC and may be applicable to the small populations of most species of wildlife that are encountered in practice (Horn et al., 1998, 1999; Virtanen et al., 1998; Wright & Royston, 1999; Linnet, 2000).

The ultimate aim is to produce a reference interval that the user is confident reflects the characteristics of the studied population and consequently, any divergence reflects processes that require clinical attention. To achieve this aim the selection of appropriate animals and appropriate statistical methods are both crucial.


For each species the results of individual studies are listed and referenced. The number of animals in the study is shown in parentheses and if it differs between analytes in the same study it is reported after the value of the analyte. Multiple samples from the same individual are noted in the column heading. Single sex populations are stated, otherwise combined male and female data are presented. Where significant physiological differences were reported in the same study, these are presented in a separate column. Additional relevant information is given as footnotes. The data in the body of the tables is presented either as an interval or as mean ± standard deviation (SD) or standard error of the mean (SEM).

The data is presented in the standard units used for haematology in Australia, which are a practical application of metric units, rather than strictly conforming to the Système International d’Unités (SI units) (Ogrim and Vaughan, 1977). For example, concentrations are reported as per litre (cubic decilitre), rather than per cubic metre and ‘amount’ is reported in grammes rather than moles. Where necessary, data published in nonstandard units has been converted (see Appendix 2).

In addition to the values from Australian mammals, the haematological values of some ‘non-Australian’ species have been included; typically, these are closely related species to those found in Australia (e.g. tree-kangaroos from New Guinea).

Abbreviations and symbols

no data available

non-Australian species







HJ bodies

Howell-Jolly bodies




mean corpuscular volume


mean corpuscular haemoglobin


mean corpuscular haemoglobin



nucleated red blood cells


not stated


packed cell volume


red blood cells (erythrocytes)


white blood cells (leukocytes)

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Dec 15, 2017 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Haematological characteristics of Australian mammals

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